Pianist Shai Maestro was born in Israel on February 5th 1987. He began playing classical piano at the age of 5 under the instruction of Ms. Irena Krivatz. His first exposure to Jazz music was at the age of 8 while listening to Oscar Peterson’s records and particularly “The Gershwin Songbook”.
“I couldn’t stop listening to that album. There was something about the way Oscar played the piano on that album. The combination of his light – crystal touch, , Gershwin’s incredibly beautiful songs and the way the band swung got me completely captivated” says Maestro.
“I remember listening to this album over and over again, discovering new details every time. Later on I found out that the track list had… (I think it was) ‘Summertime’ written twice! I thought that they had probably made a mistake there. Then, listening to these 2 tracks I realized they were completely different. They were improvising!! It sounded so different… That’s when I realized that in this music, you can question everything. It was a revelation for me”
Maestro was later accepted to the Thelma – Yellin High School of Performing Arts in Givataim, Israel where he completed his studies with honors. While taking extended literature classes, Shai was one of the few students combining a major both in the jazz and classical departments along with his regular studies.
At that time, Maestro continued his classical piano studies with Prof. Benjamin Oren of the Music Academy in Jerusalem. In 2002 and 2003 Maestro won the National Jazz Ensembles Competition “Jazz Signs” and in the years 2004-2010 he won scholarships from the America-Israel Cultural Fund for jazz piano.
At 16, Maestro attended Berklee College of Music’s ‘5 week Summer Program’ in Boston where he auditioned for the full time (4 years) program, and received a full scholarship. Maestro never took this offer.
“I was very honored by this scholarship, but some inner voice told me that it was not the right thing for me.. I began to feel the urge to either move to New York or to go to India and study Indian Classical music, which I had already started doing in Israel with master Sanjey Kumar Sharma. I felt that it wasn’t right for me to go to school at the time, I felt like I won’t find my place there.
“After graduating high school, I kept debating with this question of where to go and what should be my next step”
That’s when he got a phone call from Avishai Cohen (Double Bass player and composer, known for his career both as a sideman for Chick Corea and for his current career as a successful bandleader)
“Avishai called me and said he was looking for a piano player for his trio. After overcoming the initial shock, I realized that this was a once in a life opportunity and I literarily moved in to my practice studio. I ate there and slept there next to the piano, preparing for my ‘audition’ with Avishai”.
Maestro joined Avishai Cohen’s Trio together with drummer Mark Guiliana where he played for 5 years all around the world.
“Since I was a kid, I have had this ‘sponge-like’ character. I absorb everything that’s around me.. so being part of Avishai’s group was the best school I could have hoped for. I kept my eyes, ears and heart wide open to learn from him, from Mark and from the other incredible musicians that joined us later down the road during my time with him”.
Maestro played with Avishai from 2006 until 2011. Together they recorded four albums (“Gently Disturbed, Aurora, Sensitive Hours and Seven Seas”) two of which are for Blue Note records. They toured the world intensely, playing between 70-90 concerts a year at the world’s most well known venues and festivals such as the Blue Note in NY, Ronnie Scott’s, The Olympia Hall, Salle Pleyel, the Bataclan Theater, Jazz á Vienne, Marciac Jazz festival, Cork Jazz Festival, Yoshi’s, Madrid Jazz Festival, Vienna’s and Berlin Concert houses to mention only a few.
At 2009 Maestro relocated to New York, where he currently resides.
“For me, this is the best place to be on earth if you want to become a jazz musician. The abundance of incredibly great, hard working and dedicated musicians that live and create there is overwhelming. There is so much to learn. The fact that you can share the stage with these musicians is the best school one can hope for and that’s what makes the difference for me”.
Since his move to New York, Maestro keeps a busy schedule, playing as band leader and as a sideman. Shai has shared the stage with many world known musicians such as Jorge Rossy, John Pattitucci, Keith Carlock, Nate Smith, Kendrick Scott, Gilad Hekselman, Scott Colley, Jimmy Green, Myron Walden, Donny McCaslin, Matt Penman, Clarence Penn, Ari Hoenig and many many more.
In 2011, Maestro left Avishai’s group to pursue his own career as a band leader.
“It was the right time. I felt this bubbling energy inside that led me to continue my road and to take this difficult leap towards becoming a band leader”